Last fall I joined a reading group that is studying books that contribute to the reconciliation and healing process that has begun in Canada over the past few years. In truth, this process has always been part of the Canadian mosaic, but it has taken the majority of the population a very long time to acknowledge both the necessity and the reality. Our first book was The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King who gave us a history from an indigenous point of view. King's anger used with humour helped us to get an overview of how we as a country got to where we are now as a racist nation.
Our second books was Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga. Talaga relays the stories of seven indigenous young adults who died suspicious deaths in the Thunderbay, Ontario, area where a large school for northern Indigenous students is located. Students attend from a wide array of communities in which no education past eighth grade exist. They board with local families in Thunderbay and experience different levels of care and support. Common to all students is isolation from their families and traditional ways of life. For most, going to high school is their first time in an urban area with all the risks urban life can present.
Talaga painstakingly outlines the life situation of each individual student and makes us keenly aware that the loss of young people is much lower because of intensive care and oversight given by the indigenous school faculty and staff. Nevertheless, even the loss of one student much less seven is too much. She lays a case suggesting that racial hate has motivated these deaths, citing a few cases where students have survived and lived to tell the tale.
Seven Fallen Feathers is a must-read for every Canadian seeking to go deeper in their understanding of the shameful racism that belongs to Canadian society. We must read and digest in order to reverse the hatred that lies often under the surface of our society and sometimes erupts into the public eye.
An acclaimed journalist, Talaga was part of a tem that won an award for Gone, a series of stories on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She delivered the 2018 Mawssey Lectures, All Our Relations. She is of Polish and Indigenous descent.